SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, revealed his impressive plan of taking humans to Mars with a spaceship called the Interplanetary Transport System. The spaceship is going to have its own crew and have its own power source to take it to Mars.
The ITS is a two-stage spacecraft, having as components a huge booster and a spaceship.
The liftoff will require 28,730,000 lb of thrust, so it’s most likely the booster stage will need 42 Raptor engines, with roughly 680,000 pounds of thrust on each Raptor engine onboard. It will be 254 feet tall and 39 feet wide.
The spaceship will have 9 Raptor engines, it will be 162 feet long and 56 feet wide, and it will be able to carry 450 tonnes (cargo and passengers) on every voyage to Mars.
After the ship reaches the orbit, the booster will go back to Earth and re-launch, along with the pod that carries fuel (ITS Tanker). The fuel will be used to refuel the spaceship for its voyage to Mars. The ship then deploys two wing-like foldable solar arrays, which will be used to provide 200 kW of power. The energy will be used to refuel the ship, once on Mars. When everything is all set up, the ship will start the interplanetary voyage.
Musk also added that their goal is to send 1 million people to the red planet, and to build a self-sustaining community. For that to happen, it would require 10,000 trips with 100-200 people on each trip, and decades for them to terraform Mars. Not to mention the 100,000 cargo trips needed to support the people there.
About this project, SpaceX CEO insisted that it is just a hobby. They are using 5% of the company’s resources, the Mars landing initiative currently being their second or third priority.
Raptor Rocket Engine Testing
The first Raptor rocket testing was done in 2013, at the Stennis Space Center, located in Hancock County, Mississippi. However, because the center was not big enough to test the full engine, only components, SpaceX built a new testing ground in McGregor, Texas. Here, SpaceX is able to conduct tests on full Raptor engines, since the facility is now able to handle larger thrust. The “production Raptor goal is a specific impulse of 382 seconds and thrust of 3 MN [680,000 pounds]” – said Musk. The raptor is three times more powerful than the current Falcon 9’s Merlin rocket engine.
Raptor uses methane fuel to deliver the powerful thrust, because it is cheaper and better than kerosene. This is a crucial factor that defines the success of the mission. The rocket will undergo numerous tests before the final integration in the ITS.
The initial plan includes the launching of an unmanned craft by 2018 and will be followed by a manned mission by 2024. However, SpaceX recent Launchpad misfortunes could somehow give doubt over its success. Is it too ambitious?
With this huge project looming, Elon Musk will need some funding from scientific communities. Or perhaps help from the Government to succeed in funding their undertakings.